Key witnesses in death of Melonie Biddersingh had reason to lie, judge tells jurors

A Toronto judge is to instruct the jury today at the trial of a man accused of killing his 17-year-old daughter and leaving her body in a burning suitcase two decades ago.

Everton Biddersingh, 60, has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of his daughter

Crown attorney Mary Humphrey, left, delivers her closing argument to the jury in the trial Everton Biddersingh, right, in a Toronto court on Jan. 4, 2016. (Pam Davies/CBC)

Two key witnesses in the case against a man charged with killing his teenaged daughter both had reason to lie, a judge told jurors on Wednesday.

In his day-long charge to the jury, Superior Court Justice Al O'Marra warned the seven women and five men to view the testimony against Everton Biddersingh given by his wife and son with extreme caution.

"A central issue is the credibility of the principle witnesses," O'Marra said during his lengthy instructions. "It is up to you to decide how much to believe."

Elaine Biddersingh testified her "monster" husband beat her daily -- testimony not supported by other evidence -- and that she had no idea how her 17-year-old stepdaughter, Melonie Biddersingh, died in their small Toronto apartment in 1994.

She did however testify that she accompanied her husband -- on his orders -- to an industrial area north of Toronto, where Melonie's charred body was found in a burning suitcase.

O'Marra noted that Elaine Biddersingh was present during the abuse of the teen, and faces her own first-degree murder trial in April.

"She has an interest in the outcome of the case, a strong motivation to lie," the judge said.

Everton Biddersingh, 60, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of his daughter, who experts estimated weighed just 50 pounds -- the size of an average eight-year-old -- when she died.

Autopsy results showed she had 21 bone fractures in various stages of healing in her lower back, pelvic area and legs – injuries that might be seen in a car-crash victim -- but which were never treated.

Her older brother, Cleon Biddersingh, testified his father inflicted the injuries -- at the behest of his stepmother, who he said ruled the roost and believed the teen was possessed by the devil -- by kicking and stomping her. 

Melonie Biddersingh, 17, is seen in an undated photo circa 1994. Her remains were found in a burning suitcase in Vaughan, Ont. later that same year. (Toronto Police Service)

In addition to beatings and food deprivation, the girl was frequently chained to the wall, had her head forced into the toilet which was then flushed, was confined for hours at a time to a tiny broom closet, or shut out on the balcony. In the days before her death, she could barely walk, was incontinent, in pain, suicidal, and couldn't keep food down, Cleon Biddersingh testified.

"He could see her bones and ribs," O'Marra said in recounting the sibling's testimony.

Cleon Biddersingh, who denied any part in the killing or disposing of the body, did say he complied with his father's orders to beat his sister but was careful not to hurt her – testimony O'Marra highlighted.

O'Marra noted that charges including aggravated assault and criminal negligence were stayed against Cleon Biddersingh as well as several apparent inconsistencies in his testimony.

How the teen died is not certain -- it would take almost 20 years to identify her charred remains -- but experts said she either starved or drowned. The defence, which called no witnesses, maintains Elaine Biddersingh was a domestic tyrant obsessed with demons who drowned her.

To convict Biddersingh of first-degree murder, O'Marra told jurors they need to be satisfied the Crown has proven beyond reasonable doubt that he planned to kill her, and did so deliberately by drowning or starvation -- or that she died while he was unlawfully confining her.

If they can't agree on a first-degree murder conviction, jurors could find him guilty of the lesser offences of second-degree murder, attempted murder or manslaughter given his role in the obvious abuse the victim suffered, the judge said.

O'Marra is expected to finish his charge Thursday morning, at which point jurors will begin their deliberations.